Club History

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(Provided by Joliet Rotarian Bill Lauer)

What was to become in 1913 the Rotary Club of Joliet, began in 1910 as the Study Club, whose purpose was to study business building, efficiency, and character development.

Serving as its president was John McGuire, with the following as members:  John P. Kelly, Edmund H. Lennon, Thomas P. Lennon, Maurice F. Lennon, Joseph McGlynn, Michael J. Ryan, Thomas S. Stoll, Robert P. Kiep, Ambrose Kiep, George Lennon, A.F. Bannon, James F. Hebert, James Ley, Nick J. Freis and F. B. Murphy.

In 1910, George Lennon attended the first convocation of a proposed school of business organized by Arthur Frederick Sheldon of Chicago.  It was held as a summer session on a North Shore location, which subsequently became the campus of Mundelein College.  George was so impressed by the course that he arranged to have a speaker come to Joliet to give the course to the 16-member Study Club on a biweekly basis.

Upon completion of this course by Study Club members, it was suggested by Maurice Lennon that for the mutual benefit of the group, biweekly meetings be held to follow up the fellowship established and to review the lessons of the course.  Harry N. Tolles was sent by the school to act as organizer and instructor.  Arrangements were made by the group to have dinner meetings at the Commercial Club and that each member take his turn at being chairman of the meeting, thereby rotating the chairmanship.  From this procedure, it was suggested that the group be called Rotary Club, not knowing, at the time, about Rotary International.

"From time to time, new members were added to this group, among whom were Ralph Austin, Eddy Curry, Forbes Fairburn, William E. Fay, Frank Fitzgerald, Ki Fredericks, John Kelly, Arthur Lennon, Peter Lennon, Dwight McNally, Joe Mitchell, Gerald Murray, Ray Schroeder, Harvey Weeks, and John B. Anderson, who became a member in May 1913," said George Lennon.

The 25 members of the then Joliet Rotary Club, according to the list prepared by John B. Anderson, were:  John B. Anderson, Ralph Austin, A.M. Bannon, James Bannon, Vaughn Brooks, Forbes W. Fairburn, Frank Fitzgerald, Leonard Fredericks, Otis Haven, James Hebert, Glen Hildebrand, Jerry Kinsella, Arthur Lennon, Ed Lennon, George Lennon, Maurice Lennon, Thomas Lennon, E. B. Lord, Dr. H. F. Lotz, Joseph McGlynn, John McGuire, J. D. Price, B. K. Tarkington, Charles Underwood, and Harvey Weeks

With Harvey Weeks as president, the group embarked upon an ambitious venture.  In the Adam-Arcade Building (later destroyed by fire and now the site of the Chicago Title and Trust Company at Ottawa and Van Buren streets), which was just completed and still without tenants, they staged the Joliet Business Show and Efficiency Congress, June 11-14, 1913, with exhibitions of modern business and office equipment.  The manufacturers were permitted to exhibit without fee.  Local schools added interest with educational exhibits.  Mayor Harvey E. Wood made the opening address and the public attended by the thousands.  It was an unqualified success. 

Up to this time, Rotary International had maintained its policy of opposition to affiliation of clubs in cities with less than 75,000 population.  Harvey Weeks had approached the organization earlier and had met with firm rebuff, inasmuch as Rotary International believed Rotary would not be workable in a town the size of Joliet. 

Attracted by the widespread favorable publicity the show was receiving, a Chicago Rotary delegation, headed by Chesley R. Perry, Secretary, came to give the show and the group a critical examination.  So impressed was the delegation that it requested a meeting with a committee to discuss the ways and means to receive the Joliet group into Rotary International membership.  The meeting was held on June 14 at the Hobbs Hotel. 

In commenting upon the show, Harvey Weeks said, "It was evident to the committee that we had practiced Rotary and what it preached as to 'Service Above Self'.  Everything in that show was absolutely free.  We had spent much time in Chicago getting exhibits, and manufacturers could hardly believe it would be free advertising for them, whereas all other large cities charged fees to finance the undertaking.  We got the building free, for it was great advertising for the Adam Arcade.  The total amount spent was about $150 for everything, which the members paid by voluntary contributions."

In the minutes of the June 24, 1913 meeting, a motion was made by Mr. Brooks that the Joliet Rotary Club apply for membership in the International Association of Rotary Clubs.  Seconded by Mr. Al Bannon. The motion carried unanimously.  

Joliet Rotary was accepted into membership at the Rotary International Convention held in Buffalo, August 18-21, 1913. 

July 8, 1913, was considered the last regular meeting of the Study Club, and all members and their lady friends were invited to attend.

It should be remembered that we were officially chartered August 1, 1913, then officially certified at the International Convention.  We became the first Rotary Club from a city of less than 75,000 people, therefore we are Number ONE in many respects.

The September 4, 1913 minutes show that the following men were elected:  President--Mr. Brooks, Vice President--John Anderson, Treasurer--Ed Lennon, Secretary--James Bannon, and Sgt.-at-Arms--Frank Fitzgerald.  For the first Board of Directors:  Mr. Lord, one year, Mr. Weeks, two years, and Maurice Lennon, three years.

Mr. Lord moved that we adopt a membership fee of $10.00 and annual dues of $2.00.  He also moved that the constitution formerly adopted be abrogated and that we adopt the model constitution of the International Association.  The motion carried.  Later at the September 11, 1913 meeting, they adopted a membership fee of $5.00 and annual dues of $5.00.

Noon luncheons were started in place of dinner meetings on September 22, 1914, in the Hobbs Cafe.  Since then, Joliet Rotary has held its luncheon meetings in the Universalist Church parlors, Snapps Cafeteria, Chamber of Commerce, Masonic Temple, YMCA, Woodruff Hotel, Louis Joliet Hotel, and Louis Joliet Renaissance Center.

Since 1913, the Joliet Rotary Club, by recommendations to Rotary International, has ceded territory as well as helped establish new territories by starting Rotary Clubs in Ottawa (1914), Morris (1915), Kankakee (1915), Streator (1919), LaSalle (1920), DeKalb (1921), Aurora (1923), Manteno (1937) Wilmington (1938) and Lockport (1966).  The Club has produced four District Governors:  J. Stanley Brown 1918-19, Rev. Henry E. Rompel 1923-24, Ralph E. Morgan 1957-58, and Robert E. Leckrone 1986-87. 

In 1987, Rotary International extended membership to women in the United States.  The first women inducted into Joliet Rotary were:  Mary Jane Broncato, Ruth Calvert Fitzgerald, Carolyn Healy and Sister Dismas Janssen.

At the Conference on Legislation held in Singapore, January 23, 1989, resolution 8954 was presented by Joliet Rotarian Bob Leckrone, and four or five other Rotarians, thus officially admitting women into Rotary.

Joliet Rotary Club Projects - Over $800,000 Total Funds Awarded!

The tradition of Joliet Rotary has been to start a needed community project or assist a program that needs help.  Once these community projects are working well, Rotary then moves on to something else.  This policy is why Joliet Rotary is a well-kept secret in the community.  Our Club has been instrumental in implementing many community services and projects, but the Rotary name is associated with very few of them. 

Joliet Rotarians as individuals have always been the leaders in our community.  Many Rotarians have been past presidents, board members and leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Will County Center for Economic Development, and numerous other civic organizations.  This is primarily due to the procedure of selecting members according to the classification system.

Through the years, Rotary has either sponsored or taken an active part in many local projects.  Joliet Rotary purchased uniforms and instruments for the start of the Joliet Township High School band.  It also sponsored projects for Crippled Children's Home, now Trinity School.  This program was sponsored by Rotary up to the time the state provided funding.  Rotary also sponsored the first community July Fourth fireworks display. 

Important Dates in Joliet Rotary History

In 1913, three Rotarians, Al Oldhaver, Herb Spencer, and Art Montzheimer, served on the board of Joliet Township High School.  Joliet Rotary purchased the instruments and uniforms for the start of the high school marching band from Rotarian George Wiswell's Music Store.  The High School Band went on to become State Champions in 1924, 1925, and 1926.  They won National Championships in 1926, 1927, and 1928, and then received permanent possession of the cup.  In 1929, they were a guest band at Denver, because they could not participate after three successive victories.  In 1930, they lost by one point to Senn High from Flint, Michigan.  They won again in 1931, 1933, 1935, 1938, and 1940, then won all regional contests up to 1964 when the high school split into three schools.

1914 - Vaughn Brooks, the second president of Joliet Rotary, was responsible for founding the Joliet Chamber of Commerce.  Rotarian Art Leach was the first Chamber President.

1915 - Rotary wanted to turn a quarry on Rowell Avenue into a safe place to swim.  Art Montzheimer, Chief Engineer of the E.J. & E., chaired the Michigan Beach Committee.  A land lease was secured and a minstrel show was put on for three nights at the high school to raise money to construct a beach and build a bath house.  As a result, thirty carloads of Lake Michigan sand were added to the quarry to make the beach.

1915 - Procured Higginbotham Woods for city park property.

1917 - During World War I, Rotary equipped the "Dandy First" soldiers with shoes and other equipment while they were training at Dellwood Park.

1919 - Arranged for use of the country club during the flu epidemic.

1920 - The high school band was the official Rotary 12th District Band at the International Convention at Atlantic City.  Joliet Rotary paid for the trip.

1923 - Women of Rotary formed.

1924 - The high school band was the official District Band at the District Convention in St. Louis.  The American Legion Band later evolved from this.

1930 - Rotary sponsored the first Boy Scout camp at Morris which is still in existence.  Later they sponsored the first Girl Scout camp at Custer Park. 

1934 - Hosted 474 delegates at the Rotary 40th District Conference.

1935 - Crippled Children Clinic was spearheaded by Dr. John Mitchell and other Rotarians in the medical field.  Funds came from the proceeds of double-header high school basketball games sponsored annually for several years in the JTHS gym.  Teams involved included Joliet Township, Joliet Catholic High, Lockport, and another school.  At first, Joliet Catholic did not play JTHS, as there was concern over the intensity of the rivalry.  The first game between the rival schools, which is believed to have taken place in 1938, was under the sponsorship of Joliet Rotary.

1938 - Contributed a station wagon to the Crippled Children Clinic.

1942 - During WWII, John Lux, John MacKeever, and Fred Woodruff originated and directed a hospitality program for traveling servicemen.  This program later gained national recognition for Joliet Rotary.

1947 - Sponsored basketball clinics with the Park District on Saturday mornings in five school gyms for 700 grade school boys.  A total of 272 games were played.

In recent history, Joliet Rotary has contributed to the Rotary 3H Program and oversubscribed to the Polio-Plus Program.  It also has hosted many students in both the regular exchange program and the short-term student exchange program, and participated in the Rotary Group Exchange with groups from England, Egypt/Bhrain, Greece, Argentina, Australia, India and Turkey.         

For many years, the Joliet Rotary has donated approximately $4,500 annually to various local charities.

1980 - The club participated in the 75th International Convention in Chicago and also hosted 150 foreign visitors in Joliet during Hospitality Night.

Annual Rotary Raffle Started

1984-1988 - Over $250,000 and in-kind contributions were donated to build the Rotary Sports Complex at the Galowich YMCA on the west side of Joliet.

1989 - Established a $75,000 endowment fund to maintain the YMCA Sports Field.

1990 - $30,000 to Habitat for Humanity to construct two homes.

1991 - $30,000 to Will-Grundy Free Medical Clinic for an endowment fund for medications.

1992 - $26,100 to D-FY-IT drug testing program for local high schools.

1993 - $30,000 to purchase equipment to establish a handicapped playground for Easter Seals.

Located and donated 18 hospital beds which were shipped to a clinic in Mexico.

1994 - Purchased a 15 passenger van for the Salvation Army.

1995 - Donated $30,000 to help refurbish facilities for an abused women's shelter.

1996 - Donated $32,000 to Easter Seals for furnishing a supervisory group home.

1997 - Donated $30,000 to United Cerebral Palsy Park for specialized playground equipment.

1998 - Donated a total of $30,000 for endowed scholarships to be awarded annually by Joliet Junior College, Lewis University, and the University of St. Francis.

1999 - Donated $30,000 for funding of the Will-Grundy Rotary Dental Clinic.

2000 - Donated $27,400 to Morningstar Mission Ministries for their kitchen renovation project.

2001 - Divided a $30,000 donation to the Salvation Army for renovation of their kitchen, and to the Will County Humane Society for renovation of their facility.

2002 - Donated a total of $30,000 to the Rotary College Scholarship Program for the scholarship fund established at Lewis University, University of St. Francis, and Joliet Junior College.

2003 - Donated $30,000 to Joliet Hospice for the construction of a patient room.

2004 - Donated $14,000 to Lamb's Fold toward a new shower room for the women and children.

2005 - Raffle funded sand filters for water treatment in the Dominican Republic.

2006 - Raffle funded Rotary Club of Joliet college scholarships to high school seniors.

2007 - Raffle funded van purchase for Will County Senior Services Center.

2008 - Raffle funded new mens shower at DAYBREAK Shelter.

2009 - Raffle funded playground at Guardian Angel Home in Joliet.

2010 - Raffle funded a new gym floor at Werden Buck Boys and Girls Club in Joliet.

2011 - Raffle funded repainting the interior of the Will Grundy Medical Clinic, purchasing new medication carts at Our Lady of Angels, and a new tile floor for St.Vincent dePaul.

2012 - Raffle funded new handicap-accessible playground for UCP's Reedswood School on Reed St. in Joliet

2013 - Rotary Wall donation to Joliet Area Historical Museum ($70,000)

2014 - Raffle funded a new passenger van for the Our Lady of Angels Retirement home

2015 - Raffle funded a new delivery van for Habitat for Humanity

2016 - Raffle funded the refurbishing of the Rialto Square Theatre marquee lights

2017 - Raffle funded the purchase of new ADA pool lifts for the Galowich YMCA and Smith YMCA for $14,664 and improvements to staircases at Werden Buck Boys and Girls Club of $11,403. Also donated $3,500 each to Easterseals and Cornerstone.

2018 - Raffle funded $28,500 to Senior Services Center for the Senior Express transportation project

2019 - Raffle funded $27,746 to the Spanish Community Center for renovations and repairs to their building.

2020 - Raffle funded $11,000 of accessible fitness equipment for Cornerstone Services and $21,000 of residential home renovations to Easterseals for a home the club sponsored in 1996.

2021 - Raffle funded $25,000 of pool restoration and renovation to the Boys and Girls Club of Joliet

2022 - TBA!